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Thursday, December 30, 2010

True Grit

TRUE GRIT (2010)
written for the screen and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
[filmography: A Serious Man (2009), Burn After Reading (2008), No Country for Old Men (2007), The Ladykillers (2004), The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), The Big Lebowski (1998), Fargo (1996), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Barton Fink (1991), Miller's Crossing (1990), Raising Arizona (1987), Blood Simple. (1984)] 
starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, and Hailee Steinfeld
    ENJOYMENT: ***1/2 (out of 5)
"Liked it a lot" 
    First of all, with all due respect, I really love the Coen Brothers.  They have turned out consistently good movies for the last 26 years, and have more great films than any other "great" filmmakers I'm aware of.  My favorite of theirs of course is Fargo, then The Big Lebowski, and then Miller's Crossing.  But I am a huge fan of their new stuff as well, like No Country and Burn After Reading.  I didn't love A Serious Man.  In fact, I thought that if the Coen Brothers didn't make it, and I didn't respect them so much, I'd say it blew.  Though I know tons of people that loved it, and hence this illustrates the main problem of reviewing anything in the first place--everyone has their own opinion.  I don't ever want to deter anyone from seeing a film they're interested in; that is not my purpose of reviewing the films I see.  And with True Grit, my stance is no different.  Despite feeling like this was only a slightly above average film, I know that others will love it.  In fact, some may say it's the Coen's best since Fargo, or the best western made in 20 years (since Unforgiven).  I challenge all to form their own opinions. But I must humbly say that I merely "Liked it," and here's why.
    True Grit was originally a book written by Charles Portis, that was later adapted for the screen in 1969 and headed by the wonderful John Wayne.  John Wayne won his only Oscar for Best Actor in Leading Role that award season at the age of 62, after over 40 years of making films.  Unfortunately, I am not well-versed in John Wayne and his films, but when watching his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn I knew I was watching something spectacular.  Same goes with Jeff Bridges.  Bridges has an equally impressive career, having also been making film for 40 years at this point, and currently 61 years of age.  Perhaps no other actor could match John Wayne in experience and austerity.  And He delivers, oh so well.  Bridges will most likely receive an Oscar nomination this year, but not a win, because the Coens didn't give him the movie his character deserved.  This True Grit attempts to stray from the original film in some areas, so as not to be confused with a shot-by-shot remake, but misses the mark when developing my interest and compassion for lil' Mattie Ross, the film's other key character.  True Grit picks up steam after about 30 minutes, however, and delivers signature Coen Brother action and magnificent shots that make the whole experience definitely worthwhile.  
    All in all, this movie is really good, and the performances should not be missed.  Jeff Bridges and the way he totes that gun around and rides through the old West is brilliantly realized.  Also, 14 year-old Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Mattie Ross, the girl who initiates the adventure through the old territory, is mighty impressive in her first feature film.  She shines and commands the screen in the first 30 minutes--enough to carry us through the somewhat confused intro.  She holds her own with the great Bridges, as well as with Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, who are both extremely good as well.  My second favorite thing about this movie, aside from its performances, is the action scenes.  The Coens deliver on their unspoken promise to consistently wow their audience with gun shots, blood, and memorable scores, all with minimal camera cuts to add to the uniqueness of their style.  Aside from this though, I felt the film was a little loose and may have been able to use some more transitions and tighter edits; however, True Grit is still a worthwhile experience and a worthy addition to the Coen's filmography.

AWARD PREDICTIONS: The movie will be nominated for Best Picture (since there are now 10 spots open in that category), Best Actor Jeff Bridges, Best Supporting Actress Hailee Steinfeld (though it's really a leading role), and maybe Best Director or Best Adapted Screenplay (because the Coens can shoot a feature length toothpaste commercial and still manage garner a nomination in one of these categories).


Rabbit Hole

written by David Lindsay-Abaire (based on his play)
directed by John Cameron Mitchell 
[filmography: Shortbus (2006), Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)]
starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, and Sandra Oh

ENJOYMENT: ***** (out of 5)
"Loved it"

    This happens to be my favorite genre of movie, however, rarely do I see a film that falls into this specific categorization.  The genre, as I call it, is a "powerhouse drama".  In a powerhouse drama, very little laughing occurs on my part, except when merely showing that I relate with the views or the characters, and the plot deals with big ugly human emotions--although not always pretty emotions, but pain and hardship. Movies in this genre include Eyes Wide Shut, The Hours, Husbands and Wives, Match Point, Magnolia, Revolutionary Road, and Closer.  These movies are some of my favorites because they acknowledge the pain in life, deal with it thoughtfully, and offer a bit of consolation and perspective that I wouldn't have received otherwise.

    Rabbit Hole is no different.  This film is beautifully shot, beautifully acted, and beautifully sculpted; however, the hardships experienced by its characters are far from beautiful.  The film is about a woman and her husband who have recently lost their son, and their struggles to heal from what might be the most painful of conceivable travesties.  I knew about my-previous-sentence worth of information on the plot before going in to see this film, and I believe this helped me enjoy the ride a bit more, so I won't spoil anymore.  However, what I do want to say is that the way this film deals with these emotions is purely magnificent filmmaking.  The movie does not illustrate the typical superficial emotions you'd expect a family to go through in their circumstances--like blame and psychotic depression--but gives a dichotomy of emotions among the two main characters that are deeper, fully cooked, and more believable. 
    What I really appreciated about this film was the depth of its characters and plot.  This is what I've found to be quite common in Pulitzer-Prize-winning plays that are turned into movies, that they have all the kinks worked out through countless repetition, and are extremely tight as a result.  There was nothing cliche to me at all in this film.  The feelings experienced in this film were human emotions--as shown in the main characters--and were emotions that no amount of understanding or forgiveness could erase.  There is still a lot of love in the film, and it's not at all about vengeance or betrayal.  The film is headed by two extremely intelligent characters, somewhat ignorant of the world outside of theirs, and full of vibrant and interesting dialogues, story development, and discussions of morals that were somewhat life-affirming.  Rabbit Hole is my favorite film of the year, lead by two incredibly brilliant actors that should definitely see Oscar nominations.  For Nicole Kidman, I wouldn't be too surprised if she won her second Academy Award for Best Actress this year*.

AWARD PREDICTIONS: Rabbit Hole will earn a nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards (if there is any justice in the world), Nicole Kidman a nomination for Best Actress, Aaron Eckhart a nomination for Best Actor, and David Lindsay-Abaire a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

*Nicole Kidman previously won Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance as Virginia Woolf in 2002's The Hours

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Marie Antoinette (on DVD)

                          MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006)

written and directed by Sofia Coppola 
[filmography: Somewhere (2010), Lost in Translation (2003), The Virgin Suicides (1999)]

ENJOYMENT: *** (out of 5)
"Liked it"

   I had to think all day about whether or not I liked this movie. I have very complicated feelings toward it. There were some things about the film that I loved, though I mostly detested the whole thing--but I still ended up liking it. Let me explain. 
    My first criticism is that Kirsten Dunst was a terrible choice for the title character (though she was remarkably beautiful). She's a lousy actor, her voice his annoying, and hello, she is an American playing a French queen in the 18th century. That leads to my next problem. The American English was incredibly inappropriate and disrespectful to the French, and only perpetuates the stigma that Americans are arrogant and ethnocentric. The Sound of Music got away with it because it's kinda a family movie (and it's wonderful), but Marie Antoinette kinda sucked, so the American English made it suck all that much more. It was irksome when an Austrian entered a room speaking American English to a Frenchman who also spoke American English. At least have it be British English, the English these nations might have actually spoken! After seeing movies like Lord of the Rings, I Am Love, and Apocalypto, where entire languages were learned by actors for their important roles, I believe it can only be laziness and/or arrogance of the filmmakers that leads a movie to omit key cultural characteristics like language. The movie was authentic enough to be filmed in the real friggin' Versaille palace, but left out the languages, the music, and key historical facts of the era that made this story fascinating to begin with. 
    And this leads to my last problem: the music was ridiculous. It was like we were listening to Sofia Coppola's iPod as the soundtrack. Songs like "I Want Candy" and "What Ever Happened" by The Stokes played as narrations for Marie Antoinette's escapades. The movie was superficial and didn't even touch on key points in her life. (It didn't even show her correct number of children!) After the film was over, I was able to garner enough interest to read about what really happened in Marie Antoinette's life, only to then of course realize the movie gypped us. It was like the movie Australia by Baz Luhrmann that really wasn't all about Australia. It was a merely a sliver of the story that a pretentious director thought was important, and, having enough influence on the studio to not be questioned, proceeded to make fools out of themselves and rob us from an actual good movie about that subject. I say, as 2008's incredible The Incredible Hulk pretended 2003's lousy Hulk didn't even exist, someone should remake Marie Antoinette: The Real Story (thanks for the name idea, Corey).

    Anyway, I rated this movie a "Like it" for pretty much only one gay reason: the costumes and hair were absolutely INCREDIBLE. I want to say right here that I have never seen a movie with such amazing costumes, and for that reason, it is worth seeing. This part of the film was successful in blinding me to all the things I loathed about it, like a Sex and the City film somehow does, and actually turn out recommending the movie to people--though only to girls and gays. The movie was also pretty beautiful on a whole, especially when Kirsten Dunst wasn't talking. And thanks to Coppola's silent-film-like style, where there is little dialogue in most parts of her films, Dunst didn't speak a whole lot.